TitleArtistic Research and the Poetics of Knowledge
AuthorKathrin Busch
PublisherArt & Research
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Artistic Research and the Poetics of Knowledge

Kathrin Busch

Initially, the justified attempt to anchor a theory-derived and practice-based concept of art within an academic curriculum was a response to a changed notion of art, as well as to a significant trend in contemporary art that focused on the production of knowledge rather than of artworks. In contemporary art practice, especially that which belongs to the tradition of artistic institution criticism or contextual art, the explicit recourse to philosophical or sociological theories and the integration of scientific research methods is a common and recognized process that critically analyses both the commodity aspect of artworks and their purely aesthetic impact, as well as the power structures of the art world. The resulting art productions are characterized by an interdisciplinary procedural method, in which artworks are created within a broader, theoretically informed framework.

If institutional-critique rejected the notion of producing art works due to the commodity aspect of art objects, then these days the commodity aspect of knowledge production is equally open to criticism.

The spectrum of that which can be substantiated under the term artistic research is very broad and not in the least homogeneous. It ranges from the simple integration of philosophical or scientific knowledge, to the establishment of artistic research as a form of institutionalized self–examination and scientification of artistic practice.

The use of research in the visual arts or using theoretical knowledge to develop artistic work is by no means a contemporary phenomenon. Scientific knowledge, such as optics, colour theory, anatomy, natural science, physics, geometry, and physiology are absorbed by artists as a matter of course and are reflected in their artwork. Relevant contemporary theories and discourses re-emerge in artistic production and influence its forms of presentation, as well as its content.

The artworks do not need to be a kind of research themselves, nor do they have to adhere to certain scientific standards. The concept describes art with research - not in the sense of art understood as research, but rather by recourse to scientific research.

Another form of artistic research is art that understands itself as research, in that scientific processes or conclusions become the instrument of art and are used in the artworks. This refers to a particular phenomenon in contemporary art, in particular in institutional-critique, whereby research is considered a part of the artistic process and is carried out by the artist herself. In this case, art is in fact a form of knowledge. It becomes the site of knowledge production and does not restrict itself to integrating previously known concepts. This can be considered a radicalization of the first constellation of art and science mentioned above, whereby theory is now interpreted as a constitutive element of the artistic practice itself, and scientific methods of research and knowledge generation enter into the artistic process. This is where art and science begin to blur, insofar as scientific argumentation and artistic criterion are seamlessly intertwined, and artistic work does not claim to produce a “work” in the classic sense of the term, but rather (often critical) knowledge, so as to use artistic means to analyze the present day and its social conditions and their structures. The required research is neither a preliminary work phase of art production nor is it a means to an end, rather it is the aim of the work itself. This is not about researching in order to produce an artwork; the work is the research. And the result of this research can assume such diverse forms as symposia, services, publications or interventions. Here, artistic research and its product are one and the same.6 These might not claim to be scientific methods, but rather to be an enlightening and critical production of knowledge.

The art educational program is intended to convey knowledge about society and culture, the field of art, as well as art history and art theory. The declared aim is to establish a theoretical, informed artistic practice that considers the claim of scientific methods through methodic rigor and the transfer of basic knowledge. Art’s capacity for self-reflection and auto-theorizing is referred to as the core aim of turning it into science, which will above all be reflected in PhD programs. It assumes that art is based in theoretical knowledge, that art can be learned, and that it can be further developed through scientific practice.

It’s possible to articulate criticism of this constellation of art and research. The supposition seems problematic that canonistic knowledge exists, can be integrated into art practice, and can serve as its basis. This is problematic because it neglects the fact that theory itself touches upon research practice and is not available in the form of an export product or of a stable theoretical construction. Knowledge is compacted into information that can be acquired. There is the suspicion that “theory input” is a product of the pressure to economize, because scientific justification could increase the usability and market efficiency of cultural products created by art school graduates.

In “The Discourse on Language,” Foucault expresses the clear-sighted fear that the scientifically institutionalized “will to knowledge…tends to exercise a sort of pressure, a power of constraint upon other forms of discourse”. He refers to this will to knowledge that makes the arts seek to base themselves in science — “in short, upon true discourse” as a powerful system of exclusion.

Conversely, this implies that a turn can be made against knowledge within art production in order to manifest the hidden conditions of knowledge and the unconscious transferences with regard to claims of scientification. Foucault writes that the intellectual must “struggle against the forms of power that transform him into its object and instrument in the sphere of ‘knowledge,’ ‘truth,’ ‘consciousness,’ and ‘discourse’”. In other words, in view of a steadily growing knowledge imperative, it is necessary to recall the theoreticians who refuse to restrict themselves to functioning as suppliers of knowledge, who view knowledge itself with great skepticism, and who see even their own theories as an inherent practice of knowledge criticism.

In view of artistic research and knowledge criticism, the sciences also show their limitations and restrictions, because the open and discursive quality of the artistic articulation of knowledge cannot be surpassed.